As part of the project to get more reviewers talking about IF Comp games, Duncan Stevens has shared his thoughts on Final Exam, a dystopian science fiction parser piece by Jack Whitham.
Out today, That Dragon, Cancer is a game about the slow, painful, and confusing death of the author’s son by way of a rare cancer.
It tells its story through a series of vignette levels; in each, you have restricted navigational options to explore a 3D space, while audio and in-world manifestations of text fill in what is going on in the family at this point. Often you can hear the conversations of people whom you cannot see, which gives the sense of a ghostly dissociation.
The mechanics vary: sometimes you’re there only to look at a set number of things before triggering an advancement; elsewhere, you actually need to complete some small task, such as running a not-too-difficult platformer. Sometimes you need to spend a certain amount of time in a space with a screaming child in pain, and not be able to do anything about it. This is not a remotely pleasant or play-like experience, which of course is the point. But I often did feel that I was being offered an experience I haven’t seen anywhere else in games.
What Fuwa Bansaku Found is a new piece at Sub-Q by the astonishingly prolific Chandler Groover. In it, the eponymous samurai must investigate a haunted shrine: the emperor has sent him there, but the emperor was certainly spurred to do so by Bansaku’s enemies at court. The piece draws on translations of Japanese poetry, plots from kabuki, and images from woodblock prints.
It is a parser game, but a relatively accessible one. As with quite a bit of Groover’s other parser work, Fuwa Bansaku tightens the list of needed verbs to a simpler subset of the usual library. It also gets rid of the standard compass directions and acknowledges ADVANCE and RETREAT instead. This serves the piece well: it’s quite short, and not having to worry about a possible complicated map frees the player to concentrate on other concerns. (Gun Mute also does this, but it’s a comparatively rare feature in parser IF.)
Then, too, a number of the responses specifically prompt what the player should do next:
>x grassThese long grasses resemble hairsgrowing from a courtesan’s skull.They tower around Fuwa Bansaku.He will search them.>search grassFuwa Bansaku pushes the long grassaside with one hand at his katana.
In a different context, this kind of guidance might be exasperating. But Bansaku is extremely focused and brief.
These hints also serve as a reminder that the character of Fuwa Bansaku is not the player. He is someone specific and skilled, a man of culture and intrigue and warfare. In fact, he is based on a historical figure, though with considerable embellishment. What’s more, everything he encounters in this haunted shrine receives a short but evocative description. Every item seems to point back to the details of the experience that sent him here.
Even though the piece is quite short, there is room enough in Groover’s story for several surprises. A lovely, eerie meditation on what is truly monstrous.
As part of the project to get more reviewers talking about IF Comp games, veteran IF reviewer Duncan Stevens has shared his thoughts on Koustrea’s Contentment. Duncan is one of the prolific reviewers of IF in the late-90s newsgroups, and has previously taken a look at Map for this series.
The list of IGF nominees can be found here. That includes the games nominated in the narrative category, for which I was one of the jury members. I’m excited about this, and I also know that this is the point at which some people are sad, either that they didn’t place or that the IGF isn’t doing everything everyone would like from it.
I’m not sure this is possible to solve, and I do think the IGF is worth doing anyway. However, I also know that just telling people “oh, hey, if you weren’t nominated, that’s not necessarily a judgment on you!” isn’t as comforting as it could be.
Hence, this year I’m going to try to be as transparent as reasonably possible about my own judging process. (I have cleared this with the organization.) We are discouraged from discussing other people’s votes and reasoning: it should be pretty obvious why that is, I think, but in any case these conversations need to happen in confidence. I absolutely do not speak for the whole of the jury in what follows, and other people had other views. But I’m allowed to talk about my thinking.